Archive for November, 2007

The echo chamber of the political left.

Friday, November 30th, 2007

I read Kevin Drum’s blog most days to see what the left is talking and writing about. I also regard Kevin as an honest reporter who has done a better job than the MSM on such topics as Bush’s ANG service. I followed his research a couple of years ago until he decided that there was no evidence for the myth that Bush had been AWOL. A few months later, CBS ran upon the shoal that Kevin avoided and Dan Rather ended up the principle casualty. Mary Mapes was also a casualty of sorts but she is a nut. I have pretty much stopped commenting on Kevin’s blog because the moderators delete my comments without even acknowledging that they were ever there. I complained once to Kevin, who I still e-mail occasionally, but he replied that he has no control over that anymore. They are paying him to blog so I guess the Golden Rule applies. Yesterday, I posted a few comments on a thread about Rudy Giuliani and the story of how he took his security detail with him when he visited his present wife while he was still married to the former one, Donna Hanover. I don’t think this is nearly as important a story as the lefties do because, after Bill Clinton, nothing short of child sacrifice would affect a presidential election. As a famous Louisiana governor once said, “Nothing could keep me from being elected again except finding a dead girl or a live boy in my bed.” That was 25 years ago. Live boys are less of a problem now. Anyway, I got the usual abusive responses to my comments but at least they weren’t deleted so I persisted. This morning, all my comments have been deleted but the replies are still there, referring to the now vanished comments by yours truly.

This experience, by now routine, would not be worth a post except for the CNN scandal. The Democrats refused to debate on Fox News although it was not clear if they feared a biased panel (The debate was to be sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus) or exposure to the Fox News audience, presumably more sophisticated than the couch potatoes who still watch the Ratherless CBS. The Republicans showed no such reluctance to debate in a forum put on by CNN, formerly known as The Clinton News Network for the kid glove treatment afforded the Clintons during the 90s. The treatment seems to be persistent through the present campaign. Then CNN filled the questioner ranks with plants from Democratic campagn and union activists. So much for “citizen participation.” Actually, from what little I saw, the planted questions were pretty well handled although Giuliani stumbled on the illegal immigrant questions. The questions were also kind of lame and show all the caricatures that Democrats believe about Republicans. My response to the gay general was that the “Don’t ask. Don’t tell” policy was working pretty well if he had a 42 year career that ended with him retiring as a general.

Anyway, why do Democrats, especially the left wing of the party, avoid chances to interact with people who politely disagree? This may be related to the question of why they react with obscenity and personal abuse to such people when encountered in blog comments? And now, they avoid them altogether by deleting comments. Some, like the SF Chroncle, try to fool the commenter into thinking they haven’t deleted it. I don’t care if they delete my comment with a notice: “Attention, this comment is deleted because we don’t have any answer to it.” That would be OK. I tend to think Democrats, and especially the lefty members, have weak self images. Maybe that’s why they keep coming up with these “self respect” courses in the public schools. It’s easier than actually learning stuff. Anyway, the world has a habit of bursting balloons so we’ll see if the Pelosi foreign policy is as popular as they think it is next fall.

UPDATE: The left is now complaining about the revelations of CNN plants. Poor babies.

A synthetic genome

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

I am not an expert on genetics. I have done some reading the past ten years and have far more information about the subject than I did when I finished medical school 40 years ago, or when I picked up a cell biology book five years ago. I began by starting to read Gene VII, by Lewin. I quickly realized that I did not know enough molecular biology to understand it. I ordered the cell biology book and spent a year reading it cover to cover. While I was digesting this new material, Craig Venter was making the Gene VII book obsolete. He set up a new company to compete with the Human Genome Project The result is well described in The Genome War by James Shreeve who was given access to Venter but less to the government funded project. This year, Venter’s autobiography was published and his plans for the future are described.

A lengthy essay on the future of applied genetics is here. It is not easy reading for those who have no background in biology but it should be read. Both the good future, which may exist, and its evil twin are outlined. The patent applications submitted by Venter for a synthetic genome and for a synthetic living organism, are linked. Venter has constructed an artificial virus already. An artificial bacterium is planned although that will be a far larger project. A virus is a parasite and does not have the basic systems for life. It is just a genome with a protein envelope. A living organism is tougher to make but so was the atom bomb.

Such an organism can be used as as a weapon (I’ve ordered Hammes’ book) or as a beneficial organism to make oil or clean up the environment.

I’ve got some reading to do and will post more as I learn more. For one thing, Gene VII, which I still have, is so out of date that I have ordered the new edition. The Genome Project results (both of them) have so changed the understanding of how genetics works that there is wrong information in the older version.

Venter is also collecting random water samples from the oceans to identify new organisms from ocean water. He then hopes to use the genetic makeup of the organism to predict its properties and select some of those properties to transfer to other organisms. More synthetic organisms, for multiple applications, are planned. I wish more people understood biology.

Update: The Hammes book arrived and will be read this weekend.

The ingratitude of the electorate

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

John Howard was not only defeated as Prime Minister of Australia, but lost even his own seat in Parliament. An analysis of the results in the Weekly Standard points out some interesting historical parallels. Winston Churchill was defeated in the 1945 election and Labour took over Parliament in spite of Churchill’s success in defending western civilization. He told his wife, Clementine, that he did not wish to be responsible for the affairs of the British voters for a minute longer than necessary, once the results were known. That is probably the height of ingratitude by voters, a 10 on a scale of 10, although there are modern analyses that suggest his lack of a domestic agenda was a factor. “The Beveridge Report, (which proposed the NHS Ed) therefore, presented the Prime Minister with a golden opportunity to reinvent himself as the leader of a party seriously concerned with social questions. What was more, acceptance of the report was not the only option – the party could have decided to devise and publicise an alternative prospectus. Churchill, however, completely missed the opportunity.” Churchill, in fact, was a classical liberal who had broken with the Conservative Party over the Irish Home Rule bill and who had supported measures to alleviate the burden of the poor in the early 1920s. In 1945, however, he had a war to win and seems to have ignored any other consideration. His problem was that the voters considered it won and had begun to think about the post-war period.

Last week, the most recent example of the startling rejection of a successful leader was seen in Australia. The defeat of Prime Minister John Howard after four hugely successful terms was a shocker. It is compared, and I think with good reason, with the defeat of Margaret Thatcher in 1990. The difference was that the Conservative Party, itself, ousted her, only to lose the next election to Labour and Tony Blair. In Howard’s case, he has been criticized for failing to withdraw and allow a successor to take his place before the election. The truth is that his agenda had all been accomplished and his Labour successor will, like Tony Blair adopt almost all of his reforms. The Australian Labour Party was wise in choosing a leader from Queensland, the most conservative of Australian states. Rudd, the new PM, has already announced he “has made a commitment to keep the government’s finances in order by maintaining budget surpluses and to preserve the central bank’s independence to set interest rates.” Howard paid off the national debt and his policies have seen Australia take off economically. Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking technocrat seems determined to follow the Blair path, even to his emphasis on climate change. Environmentalism is safe as long as you don’t actually plan to implement those Kyoto treaties.

Of course, there is always wishful thinking.

Why lawyers aren’t popular.

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

UPDATE: Dennis Quaid and his wife are suing the Heparin manufacturers because the nurses made a mistake in the dose they gave their newborn twins. There is no permanent harm, as far as I can learn, and the Heparin vials have been the same for years. I could see suing the hospital but the company ?

Let me begin by saying two of my kids are lawyers, one a trial lawyer, so I love some lawyers. I don’t love them (the collective “them”-pardon the pun) as much as Kevin Drum does. In his post today, he complains about an “increasing number of businesses that won’t do business with you unless you sign away your right to a trial in case of dispute. In fact, there are now entire industries that refuse to deal with anyone who won’t agree in advance that all disputes be resolved by a private arbitration firm.” I wonder why ?Could this be it ?Two joggers are running on a section of Coast Highway that is bounded by cliffs on one side and railroad tracks on the other. There is no room for a shoulder. They are struck by an uninsured driver with a suspended license. So what do they do? Why sue the city of course! It is tragic that they are quadraplegic. Still, I assume they had some personal insurance, like health insurance, and even homeowners insurance often has general liability coverage. But why the city ? And why 50 million dollars ?”In their lawsuit, the women alleged the city maintained a dangerous roadway.”Of course !“Initially the city tried to avoid liability,” Callahan said. “Granted that Bradshaw bore some of the responsibility but what actually happened was that this roadway was maintained in an unsafe way for many years.”You’d think the city put up the 200 foot bluffs that line one side of the road and the railroad that blocks off the other side. The railroad has been there long before the city was thought of. This is just the good ‘ol US way; “sue the bastards.”The article notes: “The community has supported the families since the accident with fundraisers and helping them refurbish their homes.” I wonder if that wlll continue once the news gets around? I wouldn’t.If the street was any other street, there might be a valid theory of liability. This stretch of Coast Highway has been there for a century and is periodically closed by slides from the bluffs above. The city has no option except, perhaps, to have excluded it from the city boundaries when they incorporated the old Capistrano Beach community. I used to live on that bluff and am very famliar with that road. This is legal opportunism at its worst and why so many people don’t like lawyers. I suspect the city would like to just close it as it is unafe but not because of the city’s actions. Unfortunately, it is the only route through the area that avoids the freeway. If were a jogger, I would choose one of the hundred miles of jogging routes in the beach area that is not a narrow road with no shoulder. But that assumes I am responsible for myself. I am obviously in the minority these days.Maybe the city should put up a sign that says anyone dumb enough to jog there has to agree to binding arbitration.

Red Light cameras

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

 I don’t recommend this approach to red light cameras, but they are an abuse of the public. I sat on the Planning and Transportation Commission of the City of Mission Viejo for four years. During that time, we considered installing red light camera enforcement. I don’t like red light runners, especially after running a trauma center for seven years. At the time we were considering the red light cameras, there were a number of scandals in California, such as this one. The problems are several: some states rely only on the license plate number. The Minnesota Supreme Court decided that was not enough. In Cleveland, they were attacked as increasing accidents as drivers slam on brakes to avoid running the red. There has been driver backlash. Finally, the Ohio Superme Court considered this case. So far there has not been a ruling although it is expected next month. We decided not to install them in Mission Viejo.

My own experience was with the City of Costa Mesa. In 2004, Cost Mesa was caught setting the yellow light at a shorter duration than the state mimimum. They had to admit the “error” and the cases were dismissed by the traffic court. Costa Mesa is the only city in Orange County, CA with red light cameras. It is interesting that, when Costa Mesa was caught violating state law, they only refunded the fines to those who had pleaded not guilty. What is unique about Costa Mesa ? First, they are a city with, like Oakland in Gertrude Stein’s famous phrase, “no there, there.” Costa Mesa is a small city that motorists pass through on the way to Newport Beach. Newport Beach is a wealthy beach town and those motorists drive nice cars and have plenty of money to pay traffic fines. Sutton’s Law applies. Costa Mesa sets up its red light cameras on the routes that motorists use to pass through on the way to somewhere else, either Newport Beach to the south, or Irvine to the north. Then they fiddle with the timing in order to trap as many motorists as possible into paying fines. It has been shown for example, that lengthening the yellow phase reduces the number of people violating the red light by a large factor.

“A real world example that illustrates that motorists do not adjust to the yellow light time and begin violating red lights again can be found in Fairfax County, Virginia. The engineers increased the yellow light time on March 26, 2001 from 4 seconds to 5.5 seconds with a result of a 96 percent decrease in violations.” There is the solution to most red light violations.

My own incident was with a left turn signal. I had never turned left at 19th street and the Newport Freeway (which Costa Mesa in a frenzy of civic rightousness calls the “Costa Mesa Freeway”, as if people were rushing to Cost Mesa.) until I went to have dinner with my daughter last August, who was living in Costa Mesa at the time. I was the fourth car waiting at the signal for the green arrow. When the signal changed, I moved along following the car ahead of me. At the last moment, less than a car length from the “stop line”, I noticed the light had changed to yellow. Then it turned to red but I thought I was already in the intersection. A few weeks later, a citation arrived. There was a URL that allowed me to look at the video of my “volation.” It was quickly apparent that, unlike every other city in Orange County, the green arrow does not allow the cars in the left turn lane to pass before it changes to yellow, then red. A green arrow that allows only a single car to pass (what the video showed me was the case), is useless. A motorist turning left would do as well without the left turn arrow. My conclusion was that Costa Mesa set this as a trap for unwary motorists who are unfamiliar with the predatory nature of their city.

I pleaded not-guilty and took my chances in court. The judge seemed sympathetic but the final verdict was that I was guilty of crossing the line 0.3 seconds after the light had turned red. There is apparently no law that requires, like a speed trap law, that a city be consistent in the timing of its traffic signals. Costa Mesa goes on its way fleecing motorists who are so unfortunate as to find themselves within its city limits. There is a boycott of Costa Mesa business but most motorists will not realize that they are in the sights of a modern highwayman untl it is too late.

All I can say is caveat viator. And wait for the California Supreme Court to throw out this modern form of “Stand and deliver !”

A preview of Hillary as President

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

The Los Angeles Times, of all places, gives us a preview of what President Hillary would be like. I like these quotes:

“As a boss, she inspired equal amounts of devotion and fear. She built an insular White House fiefdom known as Hillaryland, surrounding herself with a tightknit band of loyalists who skillfully advanced her causes, but who were also criticized for isolating her from political realities.”

Sounds like the Democrats’ complaints about Bush. And then, of course, there is the secrecy issue.

“She appeared sensitive to scrutiny from the start. Just three days after her husband gave her authority over the healthcare plan, she was already considering limits on public access to the plan’s records. In a Jan. 28, 1993, memo, deputy counsel Vincent Foster advised the first lady and Ira Magaziner, who devised the complex healthcare process structure, that task-force records might be withheld from release under the Freedom of Information Act if the files remained “in the control of the president.”

Sounds like the Democrats’ complaints about the Cheney energy task force.

“Her response is not known because many of her healthcare documents have not been released. The Clinton library in Little Rock has released scores of healthcare memos sent to the first lady. But none of her own memos or notes is available, and though some are now scheduled for release early next year, others may remain locked away until after the 2008 election.”

Then, of course, there is the collegial relationship with Congress that Bush doesn’t have.

“She courted skeptical Senate Finance Chairman Daniel Patrick Moynihan, but undercut the stroking with threats. At a weekend retreat after the State of the Union address in 1993, she dismissed worries about meeting a 100-day deadline set by her husband for a healthcare bill. Asked what would happen if they were late, she said: “You don’t understand. We will demonize those who are blocking this legislation and it will pass.”

Except, somehow, it didn’t work. Well, we do know that the presidency “is no place for “on-the-job training.”


The President is fooling himself in Annapolis

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

The evidence suggests that Bush is now on a mission to solve the Israeli-Palestinian “problem” This is foolish and dangerous, as Bret Stephens suggests today in the Journal. Now that Hamas is close to running the West Bank as well as Gaza, there is no logical reason why Bush should be dealing with Abbas. He is powerless and his word is worthless. After Clinton got Ehud Barak to agree to almost everythng Arafat said he wanted in 2000, it was apparent that the Palestinians are not worth negotiating with. They have been walled off to safeguard Israeli families so they can go out for a pizza without being blown up. Now it is time to wait for a new generation who understand that they are in a dead end path and who wish to join the world.

Goodbye Davey

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Davey and crew

Two weeks ago, the world lost one of the nice guys. Davey was a great shipmate and competent sailor who was comfortable only on the ocean. In this photo, he is in the foreground to the left. Next to him is Byron, who in those days was my boat skipper and delivery captain. We had finished the Transpac a few hours before. Behind Davey to his right is a friend of Byron’s whose name I no longer recall. In the middle is sailmaker Steve Dair who sailed the race with us. Behind Byron, wearing a straw hat, is Carol who flew to Hawaii to surprise Davey.


Here is another photo, taken not long before the first but after substantial champagne had been consumed. Byron, to the left, in his white shirt and with his lei around his neck, has obviously had his share. In the center is my then-wife Jill with her arm around Davey. Davey looks as he always did, happy, friendly and competent.

I lost track of Davey for 25 years until I saw his name on the crew of my friend Timm Lessley’s family Cal 40 in the 2005 Transpac. Davey was still sailing and working on boats. He had spent a lot of time with Timm, his wife Victoria and Timm’s parents and, aside from them, life had not been too kind to Davey. He had spent the intervening years working on boats, sailing when he could and drinking a little too much. I had a new boat and, when Davey had some time, he came down and did some work for me. He was still the same guy, competent and trustworthy. He even looked the same except for a couple of teeth that were missing in front. He was most at home on the ocean and the shore had not treated him well. Those of us who knew him, did what we could to keep him busy and doing as much sailing as possible. It was about all we could do. A couple of weeks ago, it just wasn’t enough and Davey left us. I am sure he had no idea how many friends he had and how much we liked and respected him.

His sister has written us that she will always see him as a dolphin still enjoying the ocean and at home. His friends will sprinkle some of his ashes at the finish line of Transpac next time the race is run. I have already told my children that is where I want my ashes someday, so maybe Davey and I will meet again.

Why Iran cannot have the bomb

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Today, I received a copy of Anthony Cordesman’s assessment of a nuclear exchange betwen Iran and Israel. He sets the time as 2010. He estimates Israeli casualties at “between 200,000 and 800,000 Israelis dead.” Iranian casuaties would be far higher at “some 16 million to 28 million Iranians dead within 21 days.” His analysis of the outcome ?

“It is theoretically possible that the Israeli state, economy and organized society might just survive such an almost-mortal blow. Iran would not survive as an organized society. “Iranian recovery is not possible in the normal sense of the term,” Cordesman notes. The difference in the death tolls is largely because Israel is believed to have more nuclear weapons of very much higher yield (some of 1 megaton), and Israel is deploying the Arrow advanced anti-missile system in addition to its Patriot batteries. Fewer Iranian weapons would get through.”

The effect on the rest of the world ?

“Walker concludes that Cordesman’s analysis spells out “the end of Persian civilization, quite probably the end of Egyptian civilization, and the end of the Oil Age. This would also mean the end of globalization and the extraordinary accretions in world trade and growth and prosperity that are hauling hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indians and others out of poverty.”

Does anyone want to see that happen ? Ahmadinejad seems to be one of very few who might. His UN speech ended with the messianic appeal to God to “hasten the emergence of your last repository, the Promised One, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace”.

Who is the Twelfth Imam ? Here is a current account of the devotion in Iran right now.

Here is more. If you haven’t read about this, you should. These people may be planning to bring on this nuclear exchange in the belief that the Imam will return when the world ends in chaos. And they are trying to build the bomb. I’m not sure that diplomacy will accomplish any more than it did with Hitler, another messianic leader with a vision.

Maybe oil will drop in price

Monday, November 26th, 2007

There is a new article in Foreign Policy magazine, suggesting that oil is about $40 too high in price. The consultant quoted believes that speculation has pushed the price far higher than the market justifies and demand is falling. A big price drop would be nice. Look at Figure 35 in the linked article. The projection for the “high oil price” scenario does not reach $100 by 2030. This looks impressive. Maybe the speculators were gambling on a US loss in Iraq with resultant chaos. Time will tell whose is right.